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Prisoner ‘punished for Duffy connection’

Colin Duffy

Colin Duffy

A man jailed over a mortar bomb plot was unlawfully punished for associating with prominent republican Colin Duffy while on temporary release, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for Sean McConville argued that conditions prohibiting contact with anyone linked to criminal activity or paramilitary organisations were too vague.

McConville, a 27-year-old Lurgan man, is serving a 15-year sentence for possession of explosives discovered in the town in 2007.

He lost prison privileges and was denied two further home leaves after being seen with Duffy and two other men, Henry Fitzsimons and Brendan Conway, late last year.

Prison chiefs took action against him based on an assessment of those he had associated with on the pre-release programme. All three men have spent time on the separated republican wing at HMP Maghaberry.

Seeking to judicially review the Northern Ireland Prison Service for the penalties imposed, Barry Macdonald QC claimed there had been a breach of McConville’s privacy and family life entitlements under Acticle 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said: “The conditions are so wide, so unclear and so imprecise that they do not allow the prisoner to regulate his activity.”

Mr Macdonald set out the allegation that his client had engaged with senior and prominent republican figures.

He claimed there was a failure to make a distinction between dissident paramilitaries and members of a political organisation.

Neasa Murnaghan, for the Prison Service, counted that McConville knew what he had signed up to.

“It would have been very easy for him to have avoided associating with these people,” she said.

Mrs Murnaghan added that it was not enough for McConville to “plead ignorance” about the three men and his responsibilities.

Following submissions Mr Justice Stephens reserved judgment on whether the applicant had established an arguable case.

Outside court McConville’s solicitor Darragh Mackin of KRW Law said: “The punishment of prisoners for breach of conditions that are vague and indefinable, based on untested hearsay evidence of the PSNI, is contrary to the basic principles of the rule of law and their rights under Article 8.”

 

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